Conversational Narcissism: The One Who Speaks, Controls the Conversation

Why Some People Always Try to Dominate A Conversation?

Yesterday I engaged in a compelling argument with one of my friends. She argued that ‘people who speak, controls’. Its like in every group, a social circle, or a workplace have one or two influential people who tend to speak more in a conversation or a group discussion. She believes that whoever is smarter, more experienced, louder, more obsessive — all the different ways power manifests. Somehow, I agree with her, but then I questioned why some people tend to control the conversation and try to prove that they are aces where everyone else is rookie? Is Conversational Narcissism really a thing?

Conversational Narcissism vs Cooperative Conversation

Dr Charles Derber, from The Pursuit of Attention, believes that people who always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves can be coined as Conversational Narcissist. Perhaps you may say after reading this statement that ‘Oh, I am not a dominating person, but I know someone who often dominates.’ However, Dr Derber argues that not always people talk more so they can prove something. Sometimes, that urge of sharing first generates uncontrollable feelings. Ever wonder when we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking so we could jump in; we pretended to be listening intently, but we were really focusing on what we were about to say once we found an opening. This type of behaviour is opposite to narcissism – it is called Cooperative Conversation.

The conversation becomes competition when a person wants to see if they can get the edge on the other people in the group by turning the attention to themselves as much as possible. It can be accomplished through the subtle strategies of conversational narcissism.

Active Conversational Narcissism

Every person makes initiatives while engaging in any conversation, either attention giving or attention-getting initiatives. Dr Derby believes that Conversational Narcissist concentrates on the latter type of initiative. But you’re going to ask, how would I know whether my dominating colleague or a friend is an attention seeker Narcissist or a Cooperative person?  Well, it’s easy – it can figure out from the type of response that person gives typically to you.

Dr Derby believes that a person who responds to what someone says can take two forms; the shift or support response. The support-response keeps attention on the speaker and the topic. On the other hand, the shift-response attempts to set the stage for the other person to change the subject and shift the attention to themselves.

Examples: Source: Brett & Kate McKay


Rajesh: I’m thinking about buying a new car.

Priyanka: Oh yeah? What models have you looked at?


Rajesh: I’m thinking about buying a new car.

Priyanka: Oh yeah? I’m thinking about buying a new car too.

Rajesh: Really?

Priyanka: Yup, I just test drove a Mustang yesterday, and it was awesome.

You can see what’s happening in both the conversations. In the first example, Priyanka kept the attention on Rajesh with her support-response. In the second example, Priyanka attempts to turn the conversation to herself with a shift-response. Being a teacher, we often experienced the shift-response at our workplaces. For example, when we share our best practices during a staff meeting with our colleagues like publishing a paper or experimenting with a new pedagogy in the classroom. Instead of appreciating or support, a Conversational Narcissist colleague always tries to shift the conversation to him/herself by demonstrating how they use the similar kind of pedagogy in their classroom more effectively.

Passive Conversational Narcissism

The subtlest form of narcissism is the passive conversational narcissism where a narcissist simply withholds his/her support-responses until the other person’s topic weakens and they can take the floor.

Normally we receive these three forms of responses from the audiences when we engaged in a discussion: Source: Brett & Kate McKay

Background acknowledgements: Minimal acknowledgements that you’re listening, such as, “Yeah,” “Uh-huh,” “Hmm,” Sure.”

Supportive assertions: Acknowledgments that show active listening. “That’s great,” “You should go for it,” “That’s not right.”

Supportive questions: Questions show that you’re not only listening but are interested in hearing more. “Why did you feel that way?” “What was his response when you said that? “What are you going to do now?”

A conversational narcissist can kill someone’s story dead in its tracks by withholding these support-responses, especially by not asking any questions. I am sure that you can now recall such times when you keep on rumbling about your best practice during the staff meeting or a target achievement story during a BOG meeting. But the influential person kept his or her responses to themselves, making  everyone else to keep their mouth shut.

Guess What, “He who speaks, controls” is a myth

Remember guys a conversational narcissist can be found in every social and professional group. However, what I experienced that he who speaks, does not control because the quantity of words doesn’t mean the quality of thought. Similarly, verbosity isn’t necessarily equivalent to intelligence.

The narcissist will demoralise you with his/her vocab bank, and the root learned information. But I believe if you are powerful and legit, your worth will eventually come forward. Because you possess one thing that the narcissist doesn’t. Peace of mind and confidence that no matter how hard a narcissist tries to steal your thunder, nobody will going to take the skill you possess. In the end, a narcissist keeps insecure and try to find out ways to demean you. But your genuineness can’t be undone. A bold vulnerability will win over a surface-level pretention. Who you are can’t be taken away from you.

Always be proud of yourself – Who you are 😊

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